Support Information for Applying for CEU Credits for:
Powerful Non-Defensive Communication (PNDC)

Training Programs For MFTs, LCSWs, & School Psychologists

With Sharon Strand Ellison

Training Overview
Supporting Data
Biographical Information Related to the Field of Therapy
Comments by Therapists

Training Overview

In her speeches and workshops, Sharon has presents a systemic understanding of the dynamics of defensiveness and power struggle that can be of great value to therapist. Participants in her training programs will learn both concepts and skills that can help them give their clients the tools they need to move past being defensive and become more proactive in their own healing and growth process. Participants will learn to:

(1) Enhancing skills in helping patients to move more quickly out of defensive postures that inhibit the process of healing,

(2) Teaching clients to use non-defensive communication tools to diffuse conflict both in work settings and in intimate relationships,

(3) Giving parents the skills needed to interact with children and teens without engaging in power struggle,

(4) Teaching children and teens to use the skills to prevent bullying and respond more effectively to peer pressure, and,

(5) Providing tools for therapists who work in collaborative family law to create more cohesive communication with other professionals who often have very different training, experience, and/or perspectives.

Sharon will demonstrate how traditional methods of communication have, for centuries, utilized the same rules as for war, thus severely limiting our ability to communicate effectively, as well as to achieve emotional healing and personal growth. She has created the theory and practice for a new paradigm for communication which she has named, Powerful Non-Defensive Communication.” Participants in this workshop will examine both concepts, as well as the practical skills in the non-defensive model.

This model offers therapists tools for helping clients communicate without ever having to resort to defensiveness regardless of how others respond. Thus, it can dramatically alter the whole process of personal growth, from self-protection to self-examination, from taking accountability to creating healthy relationships. Sharon will also demonstrate how the current use of techniques such as empathetic listening, active listening, and “I messages” can still often inadvertently prompt defensiveness. She will provide alternative techniques that, conversely, have the power to defuse defensiveness, often instantly.

Sharon’s study has been particularly focused how often subtle, yet systemic, differences in our use of language can either prompt or diffuse defensive response and our ability to resolve conflict. She has received overwhelmingly affirming response from marriage and family therapists, licensed social workers, school psychologists, psychologists, and psychiatrists who have experienced the impact they can have when using the skills learned, even with high conflict relationships. 

Supporting Data:

Background information relevant to the applicability of this course for Psychologists:

The following quotations from an article by Dr. Brent Atkinson provide foundational information in the interest of clarifying the impact of the non-defensive communication paradigm I have developed and its value for psychologists in their clinical practice. I have included my own comments regarding their relevance to my work.

As science is demonstrating, when any person gets defensive, the impact is physiological as well as cognitive/emotional.

“Joseph LeDoux, a neuroscientist at the Center for Neural Science at New York University, discovered a pathway that acts as a supersonic express route to the brain’s emotional centers. This neural back alley, which appears to be reserved for emotional emergencies, bypasses the neocortex entirely, routing information from the thalamus directly to the amygdala, a tiny, almond-shaped structure in the limbic system that has recently been identified as the brain’s emotional alarm center. . . which in turn [can] trigger a cascade of physiological responses—from a speeded-up heart rate to jacked-up blood pressure to mobilized muscles to the release of the ‘fight or fight’ hormones, adrenaline and noradrenaline.

I demonstrate how traditional methods of communication can commonly prompt the alarm system in a listener, even when the speaker is not attempting to do harm, and, if fact, may be attempting to help or support the person. Over a period of more than thirty years, I have outlined what I consider to be the primary traditional paradigm for human conversation, demonstrating how it consistently utilizes the “rules of war,”—in both overt and very subtle ways—as the foundation for our verbal interactions. I refer here to what I call the “War Model” for communication. Thus, I believe we are using language in a way that systemically creates and accelerate conflict. In other words, people are frequently plugging into each other’s emotional alarm systems even when they have no intention to do so. The result is that people’s capacity for conflict resolution is severely damaged. While psychologists and other therapists are often well versed in methods to help people move out of emotionally debilitating states, as Dr. Atkinson suggests, I think we still have a long way to go.

“This cranial takeover can occur because, neuroanatomically speaking, our thinking brain is simply outmatched by the competition . . . the shorter subterranean pathway transmits signals twice as fast as the more circuitous route involving the neocortex, the thinking brain simply can’t intervene in time. . . .To make matters worse, by this time, amygdala triggered emotional information has invaded the neocortex itself, overwhelming its centers for logic and judgment. As a result, . . . emotion-flooded thoughts about the situation are apt to feel entirely accurate and justifiable.

Frequently, when a person responds defensively, he or she either does not know why, or misidentifies the cause, projecting some kind of hurtful intention on the person with whom he or she is interacting rather than identifying it as coming from her or his own history. This means that so much conflict is what I would refer to as unnecessary, resulting entirely from misunderstanding. 

Dr. Atkinson asks, “ If an element of our humanity as unalterable as brain architecture favors blind emotion over rationality, why even bother to try to help clients master their most volatile and disabling reactions?” He answers this question by suggestion that while we can’t “reason” a person out of a flooded fight or flight defensive emotional state, we can get it to “relax” by prompting a different emotional response.

“This neural ‘relaxation response’ is possible because it turns out that our brains are wired not only for defense, but also for connection. . . .. while circuits for fear and rage have been most thoroughly mapped thus far, the neurological terrain of intimacy-arousing emotions—most notably sorrow and nurture—have recently been identified.

“Richard Davidson . . . suggested that the left prefrontal lobes . .  played a critical role in moderating emotional reactivity. While it appeared that this sector of the brain could not keep the amygdala from spazzing out in the first place, . . . it seemed able to reduce the longevity and intensity . . .”

In my work, even prior to my own complete understanding of the impact of the system of communication I was developing, people frequently said that the skills I was teaching were “disarming.” I realize now that these non-defensive tools have the power to shift people out of an alarm state, back into a state of openness and trust, without having to wait for the emotional flooding that often happens with defensiveness to dissipate more slowly, usually taking a minimum of 20 to 60 minutes(if no one else responds in a way that accelerates the defensive response). I teach a process that involves altering voice tone and body language for several parts of the communication process, as well as using different techniques and/or steps for asking questions, giving feedback, expressing thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, and setting clear boundaries.

Combining the changes in tone, body language and technique in the Powerful Non-Defensive Communication process can enable one person to respond to another in a way that can not only calm the other persons emotions, but to prompt the person to feel secure enough to revert almost instantly to a constructive thinking mode. This process enhances people's ability to access their genuine emotions as well. Many psychologists are finding that having the tools I present are valuable in a number of specific ways, including (1) helping to facilitate their clients ability to process and heal from past trauma (2) help couples shift out of emotionally reactive states so they can resolve conflict in more constructive ways, (3) teaching the skills to couples and to parents so they can generalize successful interactions that occur in the therapy session more easily to other environments, and, (4) for the increasing number of therapists working in collaborative family law, (a) to enhance the ability to work with professionals from non-therapeutic backgrounds and (b) to help parents develop skills needed to help children and teens make the difficult transitions inherent for them when their parents divorce.

Networker, July/August 1999, "The Emotional Imperative Psychotherapists Cannot Afford to Ignore, by Brent Atkinson, Ph.D., p. 26 Director of the Family Therapy Program at Northern Illinois University

ibid, 26

ibid, 29

Biographical Information Relevant to Therapists

Sharon Strand Ellison has her Master’s Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies in Juvenile Corrections from the University of Oregon and she was a Scholar in Residence at Saint John’s University.  She is the author of Taking the War Out of Our Words and was a nominee for the Leadership in a Changing World Award, sponsored by the Ford Foundation and the Advocacy Institute. Taking the Power Struggle Out of Parenting, the audio-book she authored and produced with her daughter, Ami Atkinson, won a 2008 Benjamin Franklin Award.

Early in her career, Sharon was a group worker in a detention facility in a juvenile court setting and later had experience both as a field counselor and as an intake counselor. As early as the 1970’s Sharon began developing pioneering programs taking her sessions out of the office and into home, school and playground environments where she taught on-the-spot parent, teacher, and peer relationship skill. From 1973-75, she was a co-director for government funded projects that consisted of play therapy, parenting training classes and on-site intervention. From 1975-1996, she was a counselor in private practice and a consultant to various agencies. She has worked extensively with single adults, couples, and parents and children. In 1996, she became a full-time consultant and her book was published in 1998.

Sharon has provided training for licensed social workers, marriage and family therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. She has been a speaker for organizations such as the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, the Family Dispute Resolution Educational Institute, and the International Academy of Collaborative professionals. Her clients include University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Medical School, Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute; Juvenile Services Commission; Mental Health Resources and Education Network, Multicultural Education Association; Rape Crisis Centers; Battered Women’s Safe Houses; Children’s Protective Services; and Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital, Stanford University, and the Centre for Dispute Resolution in London, England.

Comments by Therapists

I believe this is the most powerful structure I've learned in my training as a   Marriage and Family therapist. It has tremendous implications for most human interactions.

—Bette Acuff, Ph.D., M.A., MFT,  San Francisco, CA

Ms. Ellison provided on-going training in play therapy for the psychologists and other staff at the Child Center. She is a skilled therapist who is able to combine interpretive feedback with skill training, role-playing, and limit setting. She is intuitive, insightful, and supportive and is well liked by children and staff alike. Besides being a highly competent therapist, she is also an excellent trainer and teacher.

—Dr. Susan Richter, Psychologist, The Child Center, Eugene, OR

I found Sharon's presentation fascinating and extremely relevant to my work not only as a divorce mediator but also as a coach in collaborative divorce. I was able to apply her non-defensive communication techniques immediately in the next four way meeting between coaches and clients and the clients responded very positively - it was very exciting!! I look forward to taking more of Sharon's workshops.

—Debbie Katz MFT, Lafayette, CA

Sharon Ellison is a remarkable teacher in the field of communications. Her innovative approach has given teachers and school based therapists powerful tools to communicate more effectively with parents, school administrators, students, and fellow colleagues. The effectiveness of her Powerful, Non-Defensive Communication process has been readily apparent and utilized immediately by a majority of our therapists. They have found the non-defensive communication techniques especially helpful when working as a consultant/resource person to parents and teachers.

Michael Friedl, PT, PCS, (Recipient: Judy Roe Therapist of the Year Award, State of Oregon, 1998) Pediatric Clinical Specialist, Supervisor of Therapy Services, Jackson Education Service District, Medford, OR

I signed up for Sharon Ellison’s  PNDC Level One Training in the hopes of learning communication skills that would be useful in my work with Collaborative Divorce cases.  What I came away with is the foundation for a new way of communication, which I believe, has the potential to be transformational in any relational context, professional or personal.

Sharon’s style is warm, engaging, humorous, and inclusive.  She has a wonderful way of tailoring the workshop to address the needs of those present.  She is a gifted storyteller, and uses stories to demonstrate the incredible difference that can occur when a person uses PNDC.  She was patient and kind in guiding us through our first bumbling attempts at using PNDC skills.  I would love for all of my collaborative divorce colleagues be trained by Sharon in PNDC, as I believe would be enormously useful in our work with families.  PNDC provides a structure to have difficult conversations without engaging in posturing and increased hostility.  Couples can learn to reach peaceful resolutions and relax their vigilance about winning and losing.

—Emily Weaver, MFT, Oakland, CA


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Powerful Non-Defensive Communication is a trademarked name. © 1994-2017 Sharon Strand Ellison

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